This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Thriller (1960-1962)

"Mark my words, this is a thriller!"
-Boris Karloff.

Perhaps the two most famous anthology series are The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchock Presents.

But, the same year Universal released Psycho, that same studio began airing an anthology series that stands proudly beside those two classics.

Karloff bring his great class and dignity to the proceedings, of course. Happily, the episodes themselves, which are a mixture of horror and (naturally) thriller stories, are every bit as great.

One of the best is actually the first episode, "The Twisted Image." That story centers on a business executive (Leslie Nielsen) who has to contend with a woman who desires him and a man who wants to be him.

The stories came from the pens of such great artists as Robert Hardy Andrews as well as Psycho author Robert Bloch. Watching this great series today also allows us to see how the beginnings of some who are famous now, such as William Shatner, Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Vaughn.

In one sense, both Psycho and Thriller came at an interesting time. In 1960, Kennedy was just beginning his run for the White House, the Beatles were only just starting to perform in clubs in their native Liverpool and the only people who knew where Vietnam was were geography majors.

Hitchcock's film, of course, pushed the envelope big time in terms of violence and even sexuality on screen. This show, however, could be just as disturbing. Having Karloff, who was already immortalized as a horror legend by 1960, host (and occasionally act in) the series was the finishing touch, as it gave the public a familiar face which could still surprise and (yes!) thrill!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Agony Booth review: Bubble Boy (2001)

My latest Agony Booth review looks at a movie that could have been good.
The list of films with great potential that end up at the bottom of the barrel are too numerous to list. One of the major ones is the movie Bubble Boy. The film was a spoof of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. That movie starred John Travolta and was first broadcast in 1976, the same year that Travolta had his first substantial movie role with Carrie. The TV movie would get four Emmy nominations and, along with Carrie, would be the start of a winning streak for Travolta. While Travolta’s clout has lessened in recent years, it’s not hard to see why he was arguably the best of the best for a time.

Bubble Boy, on the other hand, is such a misfire all around that it should be considered a medical nightmare.

Our story begins with our title character, Jimmy Livingston, as a baby being transported through a hospital in a plastic bubble because he was born without immunities. He’s being pushed along by a nun who Jimmy’s narration describes as a bird.

Jimmy is officially brought home at age four, living in a sterilized dome in his bedroom. His Bible-thumping mother (Swoozie Kurtz) wastes no time ensuring that her stamp is on him so that Jimmy is forever pure. Her tactics include reading her own version of Rapunzel where the title princess dies in the end after escaping from her bubble. She also makes him cookies in the shape of such religious symbols as crucifixes and the Jesus fish, and teaches him that Native Americans willingly moved to reservations to build casinos and “stay out of the white man’s way”. Mom has also told Jimmy that Land of the Lost is the only TV series in existence (well, at least she didn’t pick Andromeda).

Oh, and where is Jimmy’s dad (John Carroll Lynch)? The only times we see him are when he actually attempts to show his son that there’s more to life than what his mom has told him. This is why Mom goes apeshit on Dad when she sees Jimmy on a bike Dad gave him.

By age 16, Jimmy (now played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is playing the electric guitar and quickly becoming smitten with new neighbor Chloe (Marley Shelton). His mom is onto this, of course, and quickly discourages it by reading to Jimmy that Pinocchio died after escaping his plastic bubble and touching “the whore next door”. Soon, the presence of Chloe causes Jimmy to get his first erection, which freaks him out. His mom states that the way to get rid of something as horrible as this is to recite the Pledge of Allegiance until it goes away.

Despite the insults thrown at Jimmy by her sleazy boyfriend Mark (Dave Sheridan), Chloe decides one day to go to Jimmy’s house to make friends with him. His dad is clearly all for this, as he simply invites her in and returns his attention to his newspaper while laughing at whatever he’s reading.

When they officially meet, Jimmy quickly tells Chloe that he knows her as “the whore next door”. When she asks who told her that, Jimmy says his mom. To which Chloe replies that she’s actually more of a bitch than a whore. No one can say Chloe can’t roll with the punches.

They bond over their shared love of Land of the Lost, and soon, we see them spending time together playing guitar and sunbathing. Jimmy’s mom apparently doesn’t mind this new development, as she just vacuums around Chloe, even though she’s surely corrupting Jimmy by wearing a bikini in front of him.

One night, Chloe arrives drunk and attempts to get into Jimmy’s bubble (in every sense of the word). But she thankfully passes out before that can happen. Jimmy then finds out that Chloe is dating Mark (yes, the guy who insulted Jimmy). This eventually leads to Chloe announcing her engagement to Mark, with the wedding set to happen in three days in Niagara Falls.

When she asks Jimmy if this is the right thing to do, Jimmy replies by telling her to take back the pet guinea pig she once gave him (and, yes, the little guy is encased in his own bubble). Chloe angrily takes it and leaves behind a present she made for Jimmy, and then darts off.

Jimmy looks at Chloe’s gift, which is a snow globe with the message “I Love You!” So, she’s set to marry one guy, even though she clearly loves another? (Ironically, in real life, Ms. Shelton was later caught playing tonsil hockey with her Planet Terror co-star Josh Brolin, even though she’s married to Bubble Boy producer Beau Flynn.) Well, Chloe’s inability to marry someone she loves prompts Jimmy to go to Niagara Falls to stop the wedding. To accomplish this, Jimmy builds a special bubble suit (how he learned to do something like this is anyone’s guess, unless Land of the Lost had its equivalent of Scotty), while Bill Conti’s classic music from Rocky plays in the background. Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

Our hero’s odyssey begins with Jimmy going to a bus depot, where he tells the attendant (Zack Galifinakis) that he has to get to Niagara Falls, but unfortunately, he has no money on him. He then gets hit by a bus full of members of an Up With People-like singing group that turns out to be a religious cult, led by Fabio, of all people. The cultists soon toss him off their bus after he laughs at their beliefs.

However, the group changes their tune when Fabio shows them ancient cave drawings of their messiah, describing him as the “round one”. They set out to find Jimmy again so they don’t burn in hell for rejecting him, though frankly, if I were them, I’d worry more about agreeing to do this movie.

Back at the homestead, Jimmy’s mother can’t get help from the police about her missing son. So it seems Plan B is to get Jimmy’s dad to write a fake ransom note. It states that Jimmy will be held captive by “the Jews” until they get paid $100,000. Jimmy’s mom goes apeshit on his dad again, but the joke is that she’s only outraged because “the Jews” would want a lot more than $100,000.

Next, Jimmy encounters a biker named Slim (Danny Trejo). They hit it off and exchange their life stories, including the loves they lost, and Slim talks about a woman named “Wildfire” who broke his heart, which is of course accompanied by the ’70s song of the same name. They then head off to Las Vegas to earn money. Fabio’s cult also arrives in Vegas and is promptly threatened by Slim, who gets his motorcycle crushed by their bus for his trouble.

In the midst of this chaos, Jimmy obtains a scooter and continues his journey. After a brief run-in with his parents, he winds up in a train occupied by a traveling freak show, which includes (among others) Wack Pack member Beetlejuice in a rare film role. Jimmy then meets their leader Dr. Phreak (Verne Troyer), who beats Jimmy up with a bar after being called “mini”. I swear the only thing that could make this movie worse now is if Mike Myers appeared to complement its disgusting sense of humor with his own.

Jimmy manages to KO the not-so-good doctor. His freak show troupe asks if they can go with him, a request that Jimmy respectfully declines.

Dr. Phreak is soon found and subsequently cared for by Jimmy’s parents. Jimmy’s mom then calls Chloe, who’s naturally watching Land of the Lost, and tells her that Jimmy is on his way to stop her wedding, and blames Chloe for exposing Jimmy to the horrors the world has to offer (when the horrors she has to offer are more preferable, I guess). After Jimmy’s mom hangs up, Chloe has a “what was that all about?” look on her face. Well, doll face, you just ran off to marry a sleazebag, leaving Jimmy behind with a gift saying you love him. You do the math.

Jimmy finds himself in a restaurant, where he meets an Indian ice cream man named Pushpop (Brian George). The patrons are harassing Pushpop, but then they see Jimmy, and they all panic when he explains he doesn’t have immunities. This proclamation, I must add, is interpreted by the crowd as “He’s got munities!” Okay... Native Americans, Jews, and now Southerners. This movie is definitely on a roll with its insults.

Pushpop agrees to take Jimmy to Niagara Falls. Jimmy then has a Land of the Lost-esque nightmare about losing Chloe because he doesn’t have immunities. His anguished cries upon awakening cause the ice cream man to lose control of his truck and hit a cow. With that, we now add Hindus to the list of groups insulted by this film when Pushpop kneels in the presence of the roadkill and begins praying for forgiveness. He then politely tells Jimmy to piss off by giving him ice cream, and assuring him it doesn’t contain germs, because it’s “frozen”.

For the next few scenes, we get painful intercutting of Slim and the others pursuing Jimmy on the same road, spreading the poor cow’s guts over the asphalt, while Pushpop claims he’s going to hell. Believe me, that cow is the lucky one.

Jimmy next finds himself at a casino. It’s here that we now add Chinese people to the insult list when the casino’s proprietor loudly asks Jimmy “you wantta win 500 dollar?” After playing along, Jimmy realizes that winning this money involves mud wrestling with bikini-clad girls, because when it’s your job to insult your own ethnic group, you make your own fun.

Jimmy wins the money and is now finishing his journey in a taxi driven by a really old guy named Pappy. But when they get close to New York, Pappy apparently dies behind the wheel overnight, and Jimmy is forced to abandon the moving car in another lame comedy scene.

After getting to a telephone, Jimmy tries to call Chloe, but reaches Mark, who tells him to forget about being with her. This leads to Jimmy accepting defeat as he’s reunited with his parents (whose car had been previously apprehended by the freak troupe). But Jimmy’s old man silently encourages him to not give up by allowing him to escape to resume his journey.

Jimmy somehow gets to an airplane piloted by Pappy’s brother Pippy (what are the odds?), who tells Jimmy that he and his brother are estranged because two Asian sisters named “Poon Tang” and “Poon Nanny” came between them.

Jimmy’s mom tries to stop the plane from taking off, only to be stopped herself by Slim, who recognizes her as (of course) his former flame Wildfire. I’m guessing that next, we’ll learn that when Jimmy’s mom isn’t riding motorcycles, she dons a bustier to fight crime as Wonder Woman.

To further drive home this movie’s point that blood is thicker than water, Pippy dies at the wheel of his plane, which leads to Jimmy miraculously surviving a fall over Niagara Falls.

Finally, Jimmy reaches the wedding just as Chloe is about to say “I do.” He tells her he loves her and removes his bubble suit so he can touch her in what would be a poignant scene in a better movie. Jimmy then collapses as his parents, Slim, the freaks, and the zealots all arrive at the church. Oh, good, the gang’s all here.

Chloe mourns for Jimmy, until his dad forces his mom to confess that Jimmy’s fine. In fact, he’s actually had immunities since the age of four. Naturally, Jimmy wakes up at that moment, and his mom apologizes for ruling him with an iron fist, and he and Chloe embrace.

The film ends with Jimmy and Chloe getting married, while Pushpop provides ice cream cake for the reception and has acquired the cultists as his own disciples. The happy couple also get $500 from those casino guys, forcing us to hear “500 dollar!” once more. Our newlyweds also offer a toast “to friendship”, something I doubt they’ll find from this movie’s audience.

Jimmy’s parents bid farewell as they go off with Slim dressed in biker garb. Those crazy Bible thumpers; one minute they’re president of the Land of the Lost fan club, the next they’re having threesomes while auditioning for Easy Rider. Jimmy and Chloe get a final bonus as Pappy and Pippy (who are both somehow still alive) and Poon Nanny drive them off on their honeymoon.

This movie received criticism at the time of its release for poking fun at people with deficient immune systems. Truthfully, I don’t see any evidence of that. If anything, the movie should be taken to task for insulting pretty much anyone who isn’t Caucasian, or Californian.

This film certainly had the potential to be touching, but its main failure is that it resorts to juvenile, insulting humor. On top of that, despite the main character’s disease, events don’t really play out much differently than in any routine, teenage comedy. None of the supporting cast stands out, with Shelton playing the same dim bulb she played in Valentine, although this time, she isn’t required to scream.

This brings us to our lead. Jake Gyllenhaal was pretty much unknown at the time, and for all of this movie’s flaws (which are numerous), he at least tries to bring some enthusiasm to the proceedings. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s gone on to bigger things, just like Travolta after his bubble boy movie.

The only other positive thing I can say about this movie is that its failure ensured we wouldn’t have to suffer through the sequel, Bubble Baby.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Clue turns 30!

30 years ago this month, Clue, a film based on the popular Parker Brothers game, opened in cinemas. The movie didn't make much of an impact initially (for reasons I will get to shortly), but, as the home video market was booming by the mid-1980's, got an audience even bigger than I'm sure the film's participants could have imagined once it made it on VHS.
This article pretty much sums up why the movie is now regarding an a comedy classic, so I will attempt to add my two cents in for its birthday.
The game itself was introduced to the public in 1949 and, along with Monopoly is probably Parker Brothers' most successful product. For the few who don't know how to play it (and why not?), the object of the game is to find out which of the six suspects (one of which you play) murdered Mr. Boddy, along with where in his mansion and with which murder weapon.
By the 1980's, John Landis thought a movie version of the game would be a good idea. He co-wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Lynn, and initially planned to direct it, but became too wrapped up in his movie Spies Like Us, and subsequently relinquished the director's chair to Lynn.
The movie takes place in 1954 New England. Like an Agatha Christie novel, the story begins with assorted people meeting at a mansion, where they are greeting by a man named Wadsworth (Tim Curry), who identifies himself as the butler. He informs his six guests-Col. Mustard (Martin Mull), Prof. Plum (Christopher Lloyd), Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren), Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Mr. Green (Michael McKean) and Mrs. White (Madeline Khan)-to not reveal their true names and that their host Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) is en route.
However, when the host arrives, it is revealed that it was Wadsworth who arranged the gathering in order to inform his guests that Boddy is blackmailing them.
When he is threatened with police action, Boddy gives the six weapons-a candlestick, a wrench, a lead pipe, a rope, a knife and a revolver-to the six guests (gift-wrapped, of course) and says that their reputations will not be ruined if one of them kills Wadsworth. However, Boddy is the one that is murdered. As Wadsworth and the guests attempt to solve the mystery before the police arrive, others soon fall victim to foul play, including the house's cook, Mrs. Ho (Kellye Nakahara) and the maid, Yvette (Colleen Camp).
It is later revealed that all the victims had a link to at least one of the six guests and that Wadsworth requested their appearance to help in their case against Boddy.
The film's climax is probably the reason why the movie didn't do well when it was initially in theaters. This is because there are not one, but three climaxes. One of them states that Miss Scarlet is the murderer, the second reveals Mrs. Peacock as the perpetrator and the third reveals that all the guests are responsible for at least one murder and that Wadsworth is actually Mr. Boddy.
When the movie was in theaters, only one of these endings was played. The filmmakers' idea behind this tactic was to encourage multiple viewings and have a different ending each time, much like playing the game itself. But this tactic ended up confusing most people, including film critics, as they felt each ending, viewed alone, resulted in confusion.
Happily, the film would contain all three endings once it came to home video (a fourth ending was written but not filmed although it can be found in the movie's novelization). This allowed the movie's fan base (which includes yours truly) to grow.
The film's cast could not be better as they all proved they could do comedy prior to this movie. Lynn would go on to direct the equally classic comedy My Cousin Vinny (1992). The scene-stealer is Curry, who is every bit as theatrical here as he was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).
Like Rocky Horror, Clue is now shown in theaters across the country with audience members reenacting the movie as it plays. But I find Clue the more enjoyable of the two as it has more laughs and, despite a plot hole or two, has a tighter script.
Clue's enormous cult following may have also indirectly led to later movies-based-on-games, such as Super Mario Bros. (1993) and Battleship(2012), neither of which are fondly remembered now.
One could also say that the multiple endings have since led to alternate endings from other movies being available on DVD.
Perhaps the movie's greatest legacy, though, is that it inspires people to want to play the board game of the same name, and understand why a movie could be made of it.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

"I only know I have this power. I have always had it. I can feel it burning within me, driving me on. It is here inside me. It is in my hands. And I warn you, I warn you all, that I, Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, intend to use it. The power is mine and I will use it as I please."
-Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin.

The title character of this movie is one of the most fascinating in history. He began as a monk who was later expelled from his monastery because of his excessive drinking and womanizing as well as his volatile temper (one could call Rasputin an inspiration for Sonny Corleone). By 1915, with Russia deep in World War I and on the brink of revolution, he managed to become the close confidante of Tsarina Alexandra. The reason she allowed him into the inner circle of the Romanov family was because of how Rasputin managed to heal her son, Alexis, who was hemophiliac. His healing ability remained a mystery to doctors. The influence Rasputin had over her, especially with Tsar Nicholas personally at the battlefront, led to others close to the royal family to plot his demise.

This attempt was successful in December 1916. However, even details of Rasputin's assassination are mysterious. Felix Usupov, who married the Tsar's niece, Irina, first attempted to poison Rasputin with cyanide-laced pastries. When those had no effect, Usupov resorted to shooting Rasputin. Usupov and his fellow conspirators then deposed of the body in the nearby Malaya Nevka River. However, an autopsy later revealed that the cause of Rasputin's death of drowning.

Prior to his death, Rasputin wrote to Alexandra that, should anyone take his own life, then the Romanov family would soon follow. As it turns out, Nicholas was overthrown shortly afterward and, along with Alexandra and their children, were imprisoned in Yekaterinburg, where they were executed on July 17, 1918.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous movies about Rasputin. Of the ones I've seen, my favorite is probably Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny(1996), which deservedly won Emmys for Alan Rickman's performance in the title role and Greta Scacchi's performance as Alexandra.

This film, which Hammer made back to back with Dracula-Prince of Darkness using some of the same sets and cast members, takes some liberties with the historical account of Rasputin, but is still entertaining.

Lee's Rasputin is first seen coming at an inn for something to drink. The innkeeper (Derek Francis) agrees to throw a party after Rasputin heals his ill wife. During the party, his romp in the hay with a girl is interrupted by a man who resents his luck with the ladies. The ensuing fight leads to Rasputin being disciplined by an Orthodox bishop. After the innkeeper defends him, Rasputin, despite accusations from the bishop that his power is from the devil, announces that his power is his and he will continue to use it.

After arriving in St. Petersburg, Rasputin engages in a drinking contest with Dr. Boris Zargo (Richard Pasco) in another inn. That same night, Rasputin encounters Sonia (Barbara Shelley), Vanessa (Suzan Farmer) and her brother Ivan (Francis Matthews), who are all associates of the royal family. Rasputin is angered when Sonia laughs after burping, interrupting his dancing.

The next morning, Rasputin takes a passed out Zargo to his home, where he then hypnotically calls Sonia. When she arrives, Rasputin slaps her but his anger with her lessens when she reveals her link to the Tsarina. After sending Zargo off, the two make love. Afterward, Rasputin hypnotizes her into injuring Alexandra's son Alexei, so Rasputin can be sent for to heal him. Before Zargo can object, Rasputin also instructs Sonia to make him the family's doctor.

Not surprisingly, Rasputin's subsequent influence with the Tsarina leads to even more womanizing. He renounces an anguished Sonia and hypnotizes her into committing suicide.

This leads Zargo plotting Rasputin's demise with Ivan and Sonia's brother Peter (Dinsdale Landen). Upon hearing of his sister's death, Peter confronts Rasputin, who kills him by throwing acid in his face.

Zargo and Ivan lure Rasputin to a meeting, offering poisoned wine and candies. Although the poison ravages his body, Rasputin still has enough strength to fight Ivan before Zargo takes a knife the monk meant for Ivan. This sacrifice allows Ivan to toss Rasputin out a window to his death.

I must confess, this film skips over some historical aspects that would have been nice to see. For instance, I would have like the climatic struggle between Rasputin, Ivan and Zargo to be even longer. For once, we would actually have a real-life monster getting up over and over again. As silly as this sounds, I also think those Esther Price candies Zargo poisons aren't as appealing as the Krispy Kreme doughnuts Usupov used.

But as nice as the supporting cast is, Lee is the one who makes the movie work. He was known for being as historically accurate as possible when it came to playing real-life figures. Sir Christopher was also known for being quite tall, while Rasputin, like Hitler and Charles Manson, was physically small. Despite the height difference, Lee's work was praised by none other than Maria, Rasputin's daughter, whom he met shortly after the film's release. She noted that Lee captured her father's expression, which is simply another testament to how great Sir Christopher was.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

"Whatever happens, death is not the end!"
-Lucien Celine.

The recent passing of legendary director Wes Craven prompted me to take another look at some of his films. I'd say that The Serpent and the Rainbow is his most underrated work. It is based on the non-fiction work of Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist from Harvard whose studies while in Haiti basically unlocked the secrets of zombies.

In the film, Dr. Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) travels to the same country to investigate the death of a man named Christophe (Conrad Roberts), who presumably died and was buried seven years earlier.

Alan also experiences horrifying visions while after obtaining herbs from a shaman. These images include Haitian authority Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae). Alan's American citizenship initially protects him from Peytraud until Alan's refusal to leave Haiti prompts him to take stronger measures.

Despite the help of witch doctor Mozart (Brent Jennings) and voodoo priest Lucien Celine (Paul Winfield), Alan and his associate Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson) soon find themselves at Peytraud's mercy. Mozart and Celine are both killed and Alan falls victim to the zombie powder and is buried alive. But Christophe rescues Alan, who then saves Marielle. Using Celine's teachings, they are able to vanquish Peytraud.

This film didn't make the same impact as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or Scream (1996), which is a shame as it has many eerie moments (one of my favorites is Alan's vision of a zombie hand in the soup he's about to eat.

No doubt this film has drastic differences from Davis's book, but, for those who like zombies, this one is sure to please.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Agony Booth review: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

I've beaten this point to death numerous times already, but I'm finally letting it all out in my latest review for the Agony Booth.
Like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula generated buzz when it originally premiered and won Oscars for its technical achievements, but as the years have gone by and the buzz has died down, it’s now regarded as simply inferior to the 1930s original.

In the case of Coppola’s film, that indifference is more than justified. The reason for this is because, for all the claims by both Coppola and screenwriter James Hart that this would be the definitive screen adaptation of Stoker’s 1897 novel, the end result is no more faithful to that great book than many of the other movie versions. Hence, this film has an even more misleading title than Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. (I think it says it all that this supposedly faithful adaptation deviated so far from the original book that it merited its own novelization.) But the crimes Coppola’s film commits don’t stop there.

The movie begins in 1462 at the height of the Crusades. Vlad Tepes (Gary Oldman) AKA Vlad the Impaler, the real life figure who Count Dracula was partially based on, returns to his castle after fighting (and impaling) the Turks only to discover that his wife, Elisabeta (Winona Ryder), has killed herself because she was told that he died in battle.

A priest (Anthony Hopkins) tells Vlad that because his wife has taken her own life, her soul is now damned (almost like watching this movie). Vlad then renounces God, and somehow, this causes the cross in the chapel to bleed, and him to become a vampire called Dracula as he shouts out in a hammy manner.

Jump forward to 1897, and we see British solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves; yes, Keanu Reeves) on a train bound for Transylvania to meet Dracula to arrange real estate that the Count has recently purchased in London. We also learn that Harker’s colleague, Renfield (Tom Waits) was committed after he had previously met with Dracula.

Harker meets Dracula, with Oldman now wearing old man makeup and a bizarre gray wig reminiscent of Mickey Mouse. Before long, Dracula sees a picture of Harker’s fiancée Mina (also played by Ryder) and believes that she’s the reincarnation of his beloved Elisabeta. Dracula remains outwardly calm about this revelation, but his apparently autonomous shadow lacks a similar amount of self-control. The Count then leaves Harker at the mercy of his three vampire brides while he sails off to England. Bogus, dude!

As Dracula arrives in England, Renfield goes ranting at the asylum, which is near Dracula’s new property at Carfax Abbey. His ravings attract the attention of the asylum’s Dr. Seward (Richard E. Grant).

Meanwhile, the Count transforms himself into a young man again, and tracks down Mina, and soon courts both her and her friend Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost). One stormy night, the two ladies seductively dance with each other before Dracula transforms into a wolf and bites and rapes Lucy.

Her later, bizarre behavior leads Seward, Lucy’s former beau, to send for his mentor Professor Van Helsing (also played by Hopkins). The professor deduces that Lucy has been attacked by a vampire. At the same time, Mina receives word that Jonathan has escaped the castle and is at a convent. She goes to Romania where she marries him, while Dracula wallows in self-pity.

Shortly after Lucy dies, Van Helsing, Seward, her other former flame Quincey Morris (Billy Campbell), and her fiancée Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes) head to her grave. Naturally, they find her glass coffin empty, and Lucy has now become one of the undead. All but Van Helsing are startled by her vampiric ways, but the quartet manages to drive a stake through her heart, and also decapitate her.

Mina and Jonathan return and are brought up to speed by Van Helsing. As the men hunt the Count, Dracula enters Seward’s asylum and kills Renfield. Not that it matters much, since we hardly knew this movie’s version of the guy.

Dracula next pops in on Mina and they annoyingly make goo-goo eyes at each other. She then pathetically goes apeshit on him for killing Lucy, before turning on a dime and telling him she loves him. Geez, if I wanted stupid romantic turnarounds, I’d watch Friends, thank you very much.

This scene leads to the movie’s lowest point, where Mina lovingly implores Dracula to turn her into a vampire. As anyone who’s read the book can tell you, Mina becomes a vampire against her will. However, the filmmakers seem to think that having this be a consensual act in their movie is faithful to the book. Mina’s line “Take me away from all this death” is as painful as Anakin Skywalker saying that Padme is not rough like sand in Attack of the Clones.

Happily, this awful attempt at a moving love scene is interrupted by Van Helsing and his cavalry. In the movie’s only genuinely scary moment, Dracula startles both them and the audience by popping out in his giant bat form. Van Helsing shoves a cross in his face, but Dracula is able to somehow set it on fire. I guess we shouldn’t wonder how, since the movie doesn’t. He then says Mina is now his bride before bolting.

Mina begins her transformation into a vampire, and this prompts Van Helsing to hypnotize her to find out where Dracula is going. His fellow hunters head for the Bulgarian province of Varna, although the Count manages to outwit them thanks to his connection with Mina.

As Van Helsing and Mina continue to the Borgo Pass, the Count’s brides (remember them? Didn’t think so) arrive. Their influence overwhelms Mina to such an extent that she attempts to seduce and convert Van Helsing, but he manages to outsmart them by forming a ring of fire around the two of them, which keeps the brides at bay. The next morning, they arrive at the castle, where Van Helsing decapitates all three of the brides.

Dracula, with the other vampire hunters in hot pursuit, arrives at the castle as the sun begins to set. After a brief fight with the gypsies who were transporting the Count, Morris heroically sacrifices himself by getting stabbed in the back before he thrusts his bowie knife into Dracula’s heart.

This is how the Count meets his demise in the book, and after he turns to dust, Mina, Jonathan, Van Helsing, Seward, and Holmwood spend the last couple of pages mourning Morris. Mina even notes that she and Jonathan named their son after him.

However, this is further proof that screenwriter Hart read a different book than the rest of us, because this movie completely forgets about Morris after he heroically dies. Why? Because the pathetic Dracula/Mina love story is what the book is really about, at least, according to the filmmakers.

The final scenes of this film have the dying Count crawling in the chapel where he somehow became a vampire at the beginning of the movie. Mina follows him inside and tearfully grieves, calling him “My love.” They kiss before she puts Dracula, the tragic romantic hero, out of our misery by shoving that knife through his heart and into the floor. Mina then yanks the sucker out and decapitates the count.

The final shot of the film is Mina staring up at the ceiling at a painting of Vlad and Elisabeta, symbolizing that they’re now together. Personally, I’m wondering how she and Jonathan will be able to enjoy any future wedding anniversaries after all this.

Many say that Keanu Reeves’s attempts to sound English were the worst part of the film, but, trust me, he’s the least of this movie’s problems.

Someone once called The Godfather Part III Coppola’s Phantom Menace, meaning that both films were highly anticipated but rightfully ended up being disdained. With that comparison in mind, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is Coppola’s Attack of the Clones. Both films have a horribly acted love story, and even more damningly, basically say that everything we were told about their primary characters over the decades is now suddenly wrong.

Prior to Clones, we were led to believe that Anakin Skywalker was once a noble figure who tragically became the frightening Darth Vader. However, Clones makes Anakin an annoying prick and nothing more, which is why his transformation into Vader in Revenge of the Sith isn’t tragic at all. Likewise, Stoker’s book paints its title character as a monster that must be stopped. Both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee made their careers by playing the Count in this manner. But Hart and Coppola claim that Dracula is simply a misunderstood hero who’s the victim of a tragic love story and is simply seeking love and redemption (by the way, in real life, Vlad’s wife didn’t kill herself out of anguish, but because she didn’t want to be taken prisoner by Vlad’s enemies, who were closing in on them). Hell, the tagline of this movie was “Love Never Dies”, which doesn’t exactly make me expect a horror movie.

Defenders of this movie claim that humanizing Dracula in this manner makes the film unique. I might go along with that, were it not for the fact that Coppola and Hart stated numerous times prior to the movie’s release that this would be the most faithful adaptation of Stoker’s book ever, which creates certain expectations that we assume will be met.

In fairness, this film makes more use of Morris than any of the previous movies (I don’t even recall seeing Morris in any previous Dracula film, myself). Other pluses include Hopkins’s Van Helsing, which is every bit as terrific as Peter Cushing’s (although, was the priest at the beginning of the film supposed to be Van Helsing’s ancestor?). The movie also won Oscars for makeup, costume design, and sound effects editing, and they were all well-deserved.

But these pluses are ultimately overshadowed by the movie’s own hypocrisy. Having a different take on the Count is one thing, but explicitly stating that this Dracula will be the most faithful to its source and then having the finished product showcase something else makes a critical analysis imperative.

If you want a movie that does justice to Stoker’s book, watch the classic movie versions Nosferatu, the 1931 Dracula, or Horror of Dracula. They may take liberties with the book, but they’re all nicely atmospheric, and like the book, they don’t portray the Count as the precursor to Edward in Twilight.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Victim (2011)

"I saw a film once where this guy says, 'I don't deserve to die.' And this other dude looks at him and says, 'Deserving's got nothing to do with it.' Then he blows his head off. That's what I believe. Deserving's got nothing to do with it."
-Kyle Limato.

While making Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez suggested to one of his stars, Michael Biehn, that he make his own grindhouse movie.
Biehn would oblige by writing and making his directorial debut with this movie. He also stars as loner and ex-con Kyle Limato, who simply wants to live a secluded lifestyle (so it may be a bit ironic that his first scene in the film is of him paying for a meal he just enjoyed at a restaurant).
Alas, this solitary life ends one afternoon when a woman named Annie (Jennifer Blanc, Biehn's real-life spouse) frantically knocks on his cabin door begging to be let in. Although skeptical, Kyle obliges and manages to get Annie to tell him that she's on the run from policemen James Harrison (Ryan Honey) and Jonathan Cooger (Denny Kirkwood) who have just murdered her best friend Mary (Danielle Harris).
Much of what follows are flashbacks, which show Annie and Mary taking a break from their jobs as strippers by having a romantic time in the woods with the two cops. As Cooger and Annie get cozy, Mary and Harrison are in another area having sex until Harrison gets a little too rough and snaps her neck. He desperately tells Cooger and they agree to bury the body, along with Annie. But Annie overhears them and bolts.
As it turns out, both killers arrive at Kyle's door shortly afterward. Kyle manages to convince them that Annie is not at his place, but he wants to know what's going on as the cops revealed that she has an arrest record. She insists, though, that she can't go to the police because of the cachet Harrison carries with them.
Annie agrees to take Kyle to where Mary was murdered. As they drive, she flashbacks to hanging out with Mary before their tragic date. As they catch up on news reports of missing girls, Annie asks if Mary wants to double date with her with Cooger and Harrison.
But, upon arriving at the crime scene, Kyle and Annie don't find Mary's body, as the killers buried it.
Eventually, the killers catch up with them and briefly beat up Kyle before he and Annie manage to kill them.
As they still haven't found Mary's body, Kyle decides to bury the bodies before slightly going off on a rant about serial killers and even tossing a quote from Unforgiven (1992) as you'll note in the above quote.
This film is certainly reminiscent of films such as The Last House on the Left(1972) and, indeed, Annie uses a method seen in that film to distract Cooger before killing him in the climax. There's even an obligatory love scene between Annie and Kyle.
Happily, this film, with its lively cast and kinetic violence (and even sexy scenes between Blanc and Harris) is entertaining, even more so than Grindhouse basically because its tongue isn't too much in its cheek like that film's was.